This post has been more difficult to write than I imagined. The past few days I have been restless, wanting to write, and knowing that it needed to be done, but being reluctant to do so. You see, tomorrow is my grandmother’s funeral. I was desperate to pen something poignant, something to express what she meant to me, but have struggled to find the words.
My Nan was 102 when she died. You might she had a ‘good innings’. For someone like me who spends most of their time delving into the past, I am only too acutely aware of how fleeting a century and a bit really is. And good innings or no, the loss of someone dear to you still hurts.
It may be trite to say she had a spark but there was definitely something about her. She was determined (some might say stubborn); energetic and had an impish inclination which made her (and me) chuckle. She spent a good many years trying to shrug off the stigma of illegitimacy which sadly caused her to be a terrible snob at times. It was hard to watch her light fade after she was grudgingly consigned to a nursing home following a hip replacement in her 90s. Harder still knowing she rued everyday she awoke as her body became frailer and her temperament more cantankerous.
I would be lying if I said we were incredibly close but I was very fond of her. In truth, as a children, she preferred the company of my younger brother, being a mother of two boys herself (the converse was probably true of my maternal grandmother who’d had two daughters). What we did have in common is a love of cooking and latterly vegetable gardening. I would say she was my chief inspiration for wanting to grow my own veg although I will never share her obsession for runner beans. She was a straightforward cook but made the best pastry. She attributed her success with pastry to cold hands (she had Reynaud’s Syndrome – something I have inherited from her) although I suspect her unswerving commitment to lard also had something to do with it. Her Victoria Sandwiches were pretty spectacular too.
‘Particular foods…can be a living testament to the person it was who died. Recipes live on, and to eat foods that person either used to prepare or liked to eat can feel monumentally significant.’ Nigella Lawson, Feast: Food That Celebrates Life (2004). No truer words have been written when it comes to these almond tarts – my Nan’s fall back ‘cake’ for visitors. Whenever, I bake them she is never far from my thoughts.
R.I.P Kathleen Farrant 29 August 1916 – 12 February 2019
Ingredients (Makes 16)
200g plain flour
2 tbsp icing sugar
50g cold unsalted butter, diced
50g cold lard, diced (or more butter for a veggie version)
3 large eggs
A little cold water to bind
110g caster sugar
110g ground almonds
A few drops of almond extract
Around 3 tbsp raspberry, red currant and rose jam (see below)
30g flaked almonds
Place the flour, icing sugar and fats in a food processor. Blitz briefly until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs (alternatively rub the fat into the flour and sugar by hand – this is how Nan did it). Add one of the eggs and process again adding a little cold water to form a firm dough. Wrap in cling film then refrigerate for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 200℃.
Mix the caster sugar and ground almonds together. Beat the remaining eggs. Add enough of the egg to make a soft mixture of dropping consistency (you may not need all of the egg). Add a few drops of almond extract.
Roll the pastry to a thickness of 3mm. Stamp out 10cm rounds and use them to line a bun tin. Place around half a teaspoon of jam in each pastry case then top with around 1 tsp of the almond mixture.
Scatter the tarts with flaked almonds. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the tarts are golden. Cool before eating.
Three R’s Jam (Raspberry, Red Currant And Rose)
Raspberries were prolific in my Nan’s garden so she always had a stash of raspberry jam. I have used frozen berries here as the fresh fruit are out of season.
700g frozen raspberries
300g frozen redcurrants
700g jam sugar
2-3 tbsp rose water
Place the raspberries in a saucepan. Heat gently until the have thoroughly defrosted and have become pulpy. Pass through a fine sieve to remove the pips. You should be left with around 400g of raspberry puree.
Place the raspberry puree in a large saucepan along with the frozen red currants (you will need three quarters of the total quantity of raspberry puree) and jam sugar. Slowly bring the mixture to the boil. Boil rapidly for 5-8 minutes or until the jam reaches a temperature of 105℃. You can test whether the jam is ready without a thermometer by dropping some onto a cold plate then pushing it with your finger to see whether it wrinkles or not.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before stirring in the rosewater. Pour into sterilised jars.